Troy University: New dorm isn’t discriminatory

Published 11:01 pm Monday, October 14, 2013

Troy University says there is nothing discriminatory about the school’s dorms.

The statement came Monday in the form of a letter written by a university attorney in response to an Aug. 1 letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation regarding the legality of Troy’s newest dormitory, the Newman Center.

“The Newman Center is a 376-bed dormitory open to all Troy students. Student housing at the Newman Center is not for religious students nor are students of any religious group given preference over others,” the letter from Brian Boyle, of the law firm O’Melveny & Myers, LLP, said. “Similarly, resident assistants (‘RAs’) at the Newman Center are not chosen or assigned based on their religious beliefs.”

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Boyle wrote that his letter was meant “to clarify any misunderstandings that may have occurred through media reporting.”

The Aug. 1 letter to Troy University Chancellor, Dr. Jack Hawkins from FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel alleged that the university was violating both Alabama and federal housing laws by giving “unconstitutional” preference over religious vs. nonreligious students.

“Students who wish to live in the Newman Center are required to ‘be respectful of diversity,’ but the facility itself is not respectful of diversity,” Seidel wrote. “Its sole purpose is to create a space for devoutly religious, thereby excluding the nonreligious and religious students who are not devout enough.”

While statements were made early on in talks about Troy’s Newman Center dorm regarding preferential placement to religious students, the university’s guidelines to live in the dorm are value-based, not faith-based.

According to the university, students interested in living in the Newman Center must provide a letter of recommendation from a community leader, advisor, or counselor and must meet and be willing to maintain a minimum grade point average of 2.5.

In addition, students must be respectful of diversity, must refrain from the use of alcohol or illegal drugs while in the facility, must maintain the standards of the “Trojan Way” and must be engaged in some type of community service or service learning project on a semi-annual basis.

RAs have similar requirements and must also be at least a sophomore and have lived on-campus at least one semester.

“In sum, neither students seeking housing nor students seeking resident assistant positions are given preference based on their religious views or activities,” the university’s attorney wrote. “Religious affiliation, or lack thereof, is not a criterion for on-campus housing at Troy in any of its facilities.”

The letter went on to state the university does not maintain any statistics concerning the religious affiliations or activities of students admitted to the Newman Center, or any other dorm on campus.

The Newman Center dorm at Troy does house a chapel and a common area for fellowship within the dormitory. The dorm is one of four similar facilities nationwide and part of a network of about 500 Newman Centers.

FFRF was not prepared to comment Monday regarding Troy’s letter, according to a representative, because the group had only received the university’s response letter that day. However, FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel, is expected to contact The Messenger later this week.